Some patients never need minor or major dental procedures, either due to great oral hygiene, great genetics, or a combination of both. Most, however, aren’t so lucky. Chances are, you’re going to need at least a tooth filling procedure or two over the course of your life.
Filling a tooth is a fast, largely painless, and very common treatment to help stop decay and get teeth back into good health.
Finding the Signs of Tooth Decay
Prior to scheduling a filling, your dentist will examine your teeth – usually during your regular checkup – for overall health while looking for any signs of damage or decay. They’ll make note of any changes to your smile, where there are any trouble spots, and how any previous dental work is holding up.
It’s usually during this time when they’ll discover signs of tooth decay (or cavities), which can include:
- Visible pits or holes in your teeth
- Unusual staining on the tooth surface
- Toothache or tooth sensitivity
- Pain when biting down or eating and drinking
To address the issue, your dentist may recommend a filling to stop the spread of decay and protect your teeth.
The Tooth Filling Procedure
This is the process where your dentist removes the decayed material in your tooth, thoroughly cleans the affected area, and then applies the filling.
First, you may be given a local anesthesia to reduce discomfort. In order to get through your enamel and remove the material, then shape the filling space, your dentist will have to use a drill. A gel will be applied to ensure a secure bond, followed by the filling and polishing.
What is a filling?
Your tooth filling is any material used to seal off the newly cleaned spaces in your tooth, to keep bacteria from re-entering and causing further decay.
What are fillings made of?
In the past, your filling options were limited to biocompatible metals like silver amalgam or gold. These types of fillings were very durable and could last for a long time, even decades, but were also very noticeable. While metal fillings are still available, they’re more often used toward the back of the mouth, where they’re less visible.
Today, the most popular types of fillings are composite resins or porcelain. Composite, or plastic, resins allow for a natural appearance since they can be matched to the color of the surrounding teeth. They can become stained over time, however, especially by coffee, tea, wine, or tobacco, and may need to be replaced more often as they wear down. Unlike composite, which can be poured and color matched during the tooth filling procedure, porcelain fillings must be made ahead of time in a lab. When bonded to the tooth, porcelain resists staining and wear very well, though they normally cost more than composite.
Caring for Your Tooth Filling
Immediately following the tooth filling procedure, you should follow the aftercare instructions given by your dentist to minimize any pain of swelling. That includes taking pain medication when necessary and avoiding food or beverages that could cause problems while you’re healing. For a short while, it may be best to avoid anything too hot or cold, or hard, sticky, or chewy.
Once your fillings have fully set (sometimes hours or a day or two after treatment), you can care for them as you would any part of your natural teeth.
- Brush and floss regularly each day, especially after meals
- Try to limit sugary and acidic foods and beverages
- Try to avoid staining by drinking coffee, tea, and other dark beverages through a straw when possible
- Minimize tobacco usage
- Use products with fluoride, which will help strengthen your enamel and preserve your fillings
- See your dentist regularly
Now that you know how the tooth filling procedure works and what to expect, you can prepare for a healthier, happier smile. At My Family Dentistry, we specialize in providing attentive, expert care in a relaxing, spa-like atmosphere. Whether you’re getting a tooth filled or a root canal, our team will work to keep you comfortable. Schedule your next appointment today.